Leaving on a jet plane
Los Angeles Airport - Tom Bradley International Terminal
On my way to Beijing, China International Airport for a mere 90 minute layover in route to Bangkok, Thailand for one night only. Security was now simpler and faster. Total travel time was around 19 hours to get to Chiang Mai International Airport. Definitely the longest flight of my life. I have no expectations or thoughts on what's ahead for me. Here we go.
Arriving in Beijing, China after a long 10 hour flight. As you might imagine, it was very grey and dim outside. Heavy pollution filled the sky. A nice man told me there are nice places in China to visit and was generous about extending a friendly welcome. This authentic kindness has continued throughout my journey. I am so grateful for this growth opportunity.
I was sitting next to a nice young woman from Las Vegas who was on a group tour with other college students who were spending time abroad before going out in the world and making it as an adult. After we got through security, she and her friend and I ended up at a Starbucks where they paid for my beverage as my debit card did not work and they would not accept USD. That has been my one and only snafu with money. We parted ways shortly thereafter. It was nice to spend a little time with fellow Americans.
Going through customs was pretty simple. They did confiscate a few liquid items from my backpack, but the agents were very friendly. Especially when they saw the Chinese symbols on my forearms. One of the security agents looked at my right arm and said "love". We smiled broadly at each other. Totally different than LAX. I only had a 90 minute layover in Beijing Airport then it was off to Bangkok, Thailand. Only 5 more hours and I'm there. It only seemed like an eternity after a 10 hour flight. Almost there!
One night in Bangkok
I made my way to the prearranged area in the airport where I would find transportation provided by the hotel both to and from the airport. The driver was a nice man who spoke a bit of English. I told him I was a taxi driver in Oregon USA. He was amused. We arrived at the hotel in about 10 minutes. This would be my first experience with Thai people. Awesomeness!
This was my room at the Dwella Suvarnabhumi Hotel located about 10 minutes from the Bangkok Airport. The room was pretty comfortable. I only stayed for one night as I had a flight scheduled the following day at 2:20pm to go to ChiangMai, Thailand. My flight from LA to Bejing was also at 2:20. That adds up to 44. This is my magic number. I would find that this number appears no matter where I'm at in the world. My wink of appreciation from the universe. I got hungry in the middle of the night, so I ate a bag of cashews that sat atop the mini bar. They were marked at 79 baht. That equates to $2.22 USD. Everything is incredibly inexpensive in southeast Asia. It's wild to see how far my dollars will go. Below is the view I enjoyed the next morning from my window. I would also have my worst and most expensive meal for breakfast that first morning.
The whole night and next day I could not get this song out of my head. It is one of those familiar 80s songs that defined that decade for me. It was totally appropriate in my life at that time and now. The next day I boarded a 5 hour, non-stop flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is where my adventure would begin to take shape. I won't be getting on planes for a while.
Chaing Mai, Thailand - Population approx 400,000
Walking around the city the first day was incredible. Everyone on scooters and motorcycles. The hustle and bustle of the city with record breaking temperatures that even staggered the locals. It was thrilling and uncomfortable at the same time. I was definitely out of my element which would take me a few days to adjust to. I did finally adjust and fell in love with the kindness of the residents as they took me in to their foreign land with an authentic appreciation that I will not soon forget. 5 incredible days of fun. Reminds me of San Francisco if the city was all China Town. I think I could easily live there. Everything works and the people are sweet. Potential home sweet home.
This is the LUX Hotel located right in the middle of town. A perfect location with access to everything one could want. The room was 700 baht per day wich translates to $19.67 per day. A nice place with a very sweet staff. One of whom I would spend a little time with. Her name is Pumpkin. An adorable 36 year old woman who worked the front desk. We enjoyed a lovely platonic experience over 2 days. To my surprise, she called me here in Pai, Thailand last evening to say hello and that she missed me.
My room was very comfortable with a trustworthy air conditioner that stayed on at all times when I was in the room. In Thailand, they do not flush toilet paper down the toilet as there is a "sprayer" to clean your business when you're done. I must admit that I could not comply until I got to Pai, Thailand where I would just shower after pooping. I did try the spray thing but just got water everywhere. There was a separate shower, but I would come to enjoy a combined area when I got to Pai, Thailand. *Image of room taken from the Internet.
These are some of the views from various vantage points at the hotel. I can only like it to San Francisco if the entire city was China Town. A fantastic place to live. I can see why so many "furangs" (foreigners) decide to retire here for the rest of their lives. Once I adjusted to all the newness, I too could see myself staying here long term. Below are some images from my adventures in Chiang Mai. Also you will find some of the phrases that have made my life easier while in Thailand.
A river runs through it
Breakfast of champions
This is the place I would go for breakfast 4 out of the 5 days I was in Chiang Mai. This woman was very sweet. She's been serving her community for 30 years. I would have either egg pan or an omelette with a glass of ice water or coconut water. Aroy Ka! (Deliscious!) There was a sincere appreciation for my using a few key phrases.
This is the young woman who would make my breakfast each morning. She seemed genuinely amazed and amused when I would say hello, thank you, how much and delicious every day. After the second day, The woman who owned the place stared say, " See you tomorrow". That was very special for me to hear.
To turn a phrase
Hang me out to dry
On the second day, I asked the front desk of the hotel where I could go to get my laundry done. They told me that there was a place in the alley around the corner. I ended up using one of the machines with the help of a nice young man. The machine was only 20 baht which translates to $.56. I was blown away by how inexpensive everything was. It was super easy to just stick the clothes in the machine and come back 45 minutes later. I didn't even need soap! Not sure how that worked, but my clothes were clean and smelled nice. I hung them out to dry on my patio which did not take very long in the extreme heat. Later, I would find a laundry service close by who would do everything including ironing for 70 baht. I did enjoy doing it myself and would do one more wash on my own before I left. FYI Thailand was experience the hottest temperatures on record for the past 65 years. Even my children were hearing about it in school on CNN Student News. Was cool that they had an interesting connection with the region via school. They told me that we were also in a drought which was unheard of. We are about three weeks behind in getting rain, but it is expected that rain is on the way. When I went on a tour of the waterfalls and elephant camps north of Chiang Mai, our guides were apologetic when we arrived and there were no waterfalls. Global warming baby.
Chiang Mai is comprised of many alleys. This is where much of the actions happens. Everything from restaurants, coffee houses, massage parlors, bars, hostels and scooter/motorcycle rentals. I got lost the first evening walking around for several hours asking many people where my hotel was located. I had a business card with a map on the back. However, I didn't get good directions till I found this hip, long haired Thai dude who told me I was a block away. I was so grateful. My feet hurt for 2 days following. I stopped along the way for a few cold beers. That helped. After that day, I never got lost again and easily navigated the city for the remainder of my stay. There is incredible art everywhere primarily in the form of fantastic illustration. This is one of the many things that blew my mind as I love good illustration. What a terrific city.
Food for thought
Another primary aspect of this country is the food. It is absolutely the best I've ever had and it is literally everywhere. Much of it being made right in front of you on the street. Street vending is how most of the community earns their living. It is an fantastic feast every day all day. The first day I was here and began to get overheated, I stopped at a little place that offered a meal and a drink for 65 baht. That's the equivalent of $1.82. I started feeling pretty terrible right after I ordered and thought I wouldn't be able to go through with the meal. After I told myself to hang in there, dripping sweat from my brow, I ate this incredible Pad Thai with a pineapple frozen drink and felt much better (except for the intense brain freezes). The city is also known for being the most cultural city in Thailand where elaborate temples pop up every few blocks. Gorgeous buildings of worship where one would find monks milling about. Following my life saving meal, I would now walk for hours taking pictures and not being able to find my hotel for several hours. Day one was intense and a little overwhelming. I would take a few more days for me to begin to fall in love with Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai means New City and is referred to as Tha Land of Smiles. The people are wonderfully authentic. I feel very at home here. I now think I could easily live there for a long period of time.
Another one of my favorite things about southeast Asia is that EVERYONE is on either a scooter or motorcycle. This is literally the only thing that made me hoot and holler after finally renting a scooter on the last day of my trip to Chiang Mai. I only waited because of the extreme heat. On the last day it had cooled off a bit from a nice rain the night before. Like England, they drive on the opposite sides of the street. I rented a little scooter for 180 baht for the day right next door to the hotel. I've told people that generally I do not get excited about anything. This is true. However, going 100 MPH on the straightaways just outside the city made me scream like a little school girl. I had so much fun in the chaos of the city where everyone is self governed and the authorities allow the flow to happen. It's literally one of the most exciting experiences I can recall in my life other than owning my own motorcycle for a year in Ashland. EVERYONE ride a scooter. From 8 to 80. It's pretty amazing to see 3 or even 4 people on one little scooter like its nothing. I also forgot that I automatically stayed cooler moving faster than my feet could take me. Arriving in Pai, Thailand renting a scooter was one of the first things I did. It offers incredible flexibility and costs about $2.00 a day plus cheap fuel. I cannot imagine not having one now. Check out the license place number.
Funny story. At the end of the day, I was about a block from the hotel when I noticed a police checkpoint that I could not avoid. I had read several blogs regarding local authorities and was ready for whatever came up. An office stopped me and asked if I had a license to operate MY scooter, which I told him was a rental Did I mention that most every Thai person is dirt poor? Even the police make nothing here. I told him I had a drivers up in my hotel room. He said I would have to come down to the police station to take care of this. As per my recalling specific instructions from those who gave advice, I told him that we could take care of this right here. He waved me to the side of the road and pulled out a large ticket book. After telling me again that it was illegal to ride without a a license he told me the fine was 400 baht. He was smiling during the entire scene. I too was smiling and loose and pleaded with him as a brother to give me a break and told him I was moving here . He said "okay" and told me 200 baht. That is the equivalent of $5.00. I gladly gave him the money and shook his hand. I got the local's deal. It was an awesome experience and I never felt concerned the entire time. However, I did take the scooter directly back to the hotel and only rode it in the alley to pick up my laundry. It does not seem like an issue here in Pai. Phew.
It is better to travel well than to arrive
I had not been to a dentist in at least 5 years as it would have cost me at least $200 to establish a relationship with a dentist as a new patient and go through all the rigamarole instead of just offering a reasonably priced teeth cleaning .for someone who has no dental insurance. Well, this is not an issue in Thailand. I had an incredible experience in a professional clinic with a caring professional. He told me that my teeth were in remarkable shape with no cavities or troublesome plaque build up. He told me that the balance in my life reflected the health of my mouth and that most people spend approx. 25% of their income on dentistry. I would go back to him for sure except he told me that he usually recommends a visit every 6 - 12 months. In my case he told me to come back in 2 years. I will go back to see him in 2 years. 600 baht = $16.85
The day after I arrived in Chiang Mai, my (recently purchased from a friend's mom in Oregon) Macbook Air died. This was a bit of a panic moment for me as all I think of was that I would not be able to do Facetime with my daughter and could not share my photography with my friends and family. At the same time, my new Sony camera over heated on my trip to see the elephants and all the video I shot was gone and it appeared that all the images I shot were damaged and of no use to me. After calming myself, I got on my Microsoft phone (which oddly has been the most reliable piece of gear I brought with me - great phone, still and video camera) and found a place relatively close by called Mac Zone. I jumped in an Tuk Tuk and prayed that my computer could be revived. To my surprise, I found this modern facility with a great guy who owned the place. They are factory authorized and after having to wipe my hard drive twice and reload the OS, my computer was better than ever with no sign of the previous owner on it. This procedure cost me 900 baht or $28.00 USD. It would probably have cost me around $200 in the states. I was able to then get the photos off of my Sony camera that turns out to get too hot when shooting video which I knew but played the denial game. I was not able to retain any of the video I shot of my bamboo rafting trip or the elephants.
On the second or third day I noticed someone new at the hotel desk. She was absolutely cute as a button. I approached her and told her how adorable I thought she was. She smiled, thanked me and said her name was Pumpkin. I said "Of course it is." The next day I saw her again and asked her when he days off were and what she liked to do. I asked if she drank beer. She said no, she liked coffee. I suggested that we go get some coffee on her day off. She did not respond. I went back up to my room and worked on some images. My hotel phone rang, but I did not get to it in time. I called the front desk, but after a few rings hung up. A half hour later there was a knock at my door. to my surprise it was Pumpkin. She asked me if I was interested in meeting her that evening at 11:00 in front of the hotel to go have dinner. I agreed. This made me very nervous as not only had i not been on a date in about 3 years, but now I was in a foreign land about to hang out with a 36 year old woman who spoke very little English. As I waited for her out front, the sweet Scottish couple I had spent the day with riding elephants and taking a bamboo rafting trip with walked up to me and said that they were just talking about me. Crazy. But not as crazy as what would happen when Pumpkin and I went out for dinner. Just for the sake of telling you, this was a lovely platonic experience that picked up again the following day when she took me to an incredibly beautiful place on the river for a meal about 30 minutes from the hotel. The crazy dinner thing was that there was a live band and I thought I recognized the guitar player who was sitting in. I called him over and it turned out he grew up near me, but that was not the connection. His cousin lives in Ashland and was a customer of mine in the taxi. This woman who I drove around for a few weeks was someone with deep emotional problems that I felt very sorry for and had a difficult time seeing. A nice Jewish woman with the world on her shoulders. Deep scarring and trauma that apparently ran in the family. The guy was super cool and happened to have an online business that allowed him to live full time in Chiang Mai. We talked about playing music together when I return to Chiang Mai. The world is so small. Pumpkin made a surprise telephone call to me here in Pai, Thailand last night just to say hello and that she was thinking of me. She wished me sweet dreams and I told her I was hopeful that I would return soon. PS For the sake of argument, our relationship is completely platonic. Pumpkin is a sweet friend here in Thailand. I'm not really interested in romance as much as I am kick-ass adventure. She is absolutely addicted to her cell phone. A little challenging to witness.
Phufinn In The Lake - A lovely location with terrific food. Did you notice that big 44 on the table? I did not ask to be sat there. Just like I did not ask for that specific scooter.
I had an indescribable connection with this little girl. Mere words cannot represent this unusual and and beautiful experience. It is only matched by the response I have received from children in Chiang Mai who have gone out of their way to connect with me. It has been that way for me in the states, but having it happen here in a foreign land us even more moving. I've had babies waving at me and small children blowing me kisses in response to my initiating such behavior. people are people wherever you go. However, children are so special and untainted. Especially in a place like this where authenticity is not an achievement but just is. She has my whole knee in her mouth.
A little nosh
I must add that since I've been here I have not once felt unsafe about anything. I was told to be careful about things, but common sense works just fine just about anywhere you go in life unless you find yourself in a war zone. This is no war zone. People here are genuine and have no concept of pretension. It is my favorite aspects of the culture.